SUBPLOTS: The Why, What, and How – Part II

Part I on subplots covered the purpose for using a subplot and information about both internal and external types of subplots. Simply in review, the purpose of a subplot is:
1. Make the story more real.
2. Add greater conflict and tension.
3. Add interest by giving variety to the story —keeping this unpredictable.
4. Add texture by adding story layers — see the characters interacting with new characters and in different situations.
5. Deepening characterization.
6. Generating suspense elements.

The purpose provides authors with motivation to use good subplots as appropriate to the length of the novel and the genre. Next, can consider the methods for using subplots.

How to use Subplots:
• Shorter the novel the fewer subplots
• Introduce internal subplots first to allow reader to care and take stake in the character.
• External subplots follow and add deeper tension
• Layer and weave subplots into the main plot — not separate from the main plot.
• Keep subplots in the main character’s POV.
This last point suggests that the subplot to serve its purpose should come from the main character’s points of vew, because the reader can see how the subplot affects the character and his reactions to the subplot helps to open new doors for the reader as to how the character really feels and sees situations. Adding another POV to the story is normally not suggested.

Subplot Ideas:
Coming up with meaningful subplots takes thought and preparation. As said earlier, the subplot needs to be woven into the main plot. Below are some suggestions for creating meaningful subplots.

Secrets/troubled past: someone arrives in town with secrets or information about the main character’s past that causes added complications, conflict or stress.
Faces Failure: Character must deal with some kind of failure— failed a successful marriage/engagement, failed to capture the culprint, failed to find the hidden treasure, failed to meet a child’s needs or a parent’s nees.
Childhood Issues: Character must face past difficulties that influence his present, such as: life of poverty, abandonment by parent, or physical or sexual abuse.
Unrequited love: Character tries to fix the problem–love of parents, loss of romantic love, overcoming or facing a divorce or unfaithfulness.
Romance: A positive or negative romantic situation: husband/wife renewing their relationship, two people falling in love, problems with teen’s dating or promiscuity.
Parallels: Introducing another character who’s problems parallels the main characters
Friends/neighbor: Their life complicates the main character by needing their time or a nosey friend or neighbor stirring up problems.
Career issues: Joy promotions, loss of job, job moves to another state, involves travel
New character: with proposition, with challenges, with secrets, with vendetta

These are just a few suggestions, but they will give you ideas of ways in which added subplots can affect the main character and keep the story moving forward by complicating the plot with more conflict and tension.


Leave a comment
  1. Shelley November 30, 2008 at 9:50 pm #

    I am really enjoying the last couple of posts on subplots. I am dealing with these in the novel I’m working on and have been wondering if I should have them or not – and how to use them correctly. Thanks for posting about this!

  2. Kristina December 1, 2008 at 10:41 am #

    Hi Gail,

    Thank you for another helpful blog. I read every one of them!

    I always refer back to your book Writing the Christian Romance. It is a very valuable book for a Christian romance writer to have in her or his library!

    Merry Christmas!


  3. Gail Gaymer Martin December 1, 2008 at 11:45 am #

    Shelley and Kristina – Thanks so much. I’m glad you’re finding this helpful. And Kristina thanks for letting me know you’ve found my WD book helpful.

    Wishing you both Christmas blessings.


  4. Avily Jerome December 1, 2008 at 5:50 pm #

    Thanks, as always, Gail! Your insights are really helpful!

    I think I need to go get your Writing the Christian Romance… it sounds good!

  5. The Surrendered Scribe December 2, 2008 at 5:08 pm #

    I just want to echo the other comments. I enjoy this blog, learn so much, and for any reader who has not yet purchased the Writing the Christian Romance book, it is a goldmine of information. I’m going through it yet again to work on the exercises and apply everything to my own WIP.

  6. Gail Gaymer Martin December 4, 2008 at 5:14 pm #

    Thanks so much for mentioning my book from Writers Digest, Writing the Christian Romance. I’m pleased to know that it’s providing a good resource for Christian fiction authors. I struggled learning to write without such a book and I would have loved to have one to help me. Pleased I was the one who wrote it.
    Blessings and Christmas joy.

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